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4.0 out of 5 stars Anthropologist/Community Organizer, May 5, 2011
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This review is from: A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother (Hardcover)
We heard about Stanley Ann Dunham during Barack Obama's run for President in 2008. We knew that she had
been on foodstamps. We knew that she had been a young single mother in Hawaii in the early 1960s with a black son that she had to support.

By emphasizing this part of his mother's history, Barack Obama assured people that, yes, he understood their economic pain. And yes, his mother had been fatally ill with cancer while fighting with her insurance company not to cut off her coverage.

What we really had little comprehension of during these last few years as her son served as President, was the sophistication and complexity of Ann Dunham's professionnal life as an anthropologist and pioneeer working from the "bottom up" for AID and the Ford Foundation, a real pioneer who played a leading role in creating the whole field of micro-lending in which poor women were lent "seed money" to start their own businesses. "Women," New York Times reporter, Janny Scott, writes, "were playing a critical role in keeping poor households afloat. But Indonesian government policies and programs would not reflect that reality until there were more data to prove it. Officials at Ford wanted to encourage more village-level studies." After looking at a list of well-qualified candidates to do this work in rural villages, they decided on Dunham. "She's a specialist in small scale industries/non-farm employment and would be superb."

Dunham worked for the Ford Foundation for four years and Scott's reporting on her sojourn with that international organization is fascinating. She loved the job but in many ways was much more qualified than the Ivy-educated men who ran Ford's Indonesian office. She was fluent in the national language. They were not. She had deep friendships in scores of villages, and was in fact, marrried for a time, to an Indonesian. Villagers had actually seen her give birth to an Indonesian baby. At the International School where her daughter, Maya, attended, and where all the children of Ford Foundation employees attended, Dunham's child was the only Inndonesian.

Scott's prodigious, intelligent reporting -- she interviewed more than 200 people who had known Dunham -- has produced a biography rich in detail about a strong-willed, impulsive, often generous,financially stressed woman of the late 20th century who admittedly, made many mistakes in her personal life, but never gave up her dream of doing something that she thought was important, and giving her two children good educations and good values. She succeeded, but her life was rocky, often lonely and financially difficult. Her parents, living in Honolulu brought up Barack Obama from the age of ten and Scott tells us that Dunham often told friends that "he was brilliant" and that she missed him terribly. Scott's reporting is all original. Noone else has recreated Dunham's life with its exotic inntellectual interests, and stormy marriages, the way she has. What is missing in the book is Barack Obama himself. He is largely absent physically in this detailed book, and if Scott fails in any way it is in decribing the deep bond between mother and son, and his psychological development and relationship to her in all the many years that they were separated.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 18, 2011 10:09:46 AM PDT
Until I read this review I did not realize, despite the title, the book would be about Barack Obama's mother, rather than Barack Obama. However, in an important sense, the book is about our President, and the reviewer conveys this so well. I look forward to reading the book and considering President Obama in light of what he brings of his Mother to his presidency.

In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2011 7:54:37 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2011 11:04:25 AM PDT
Thanks for your comment. I didn't realize, until I read Janny Scott's book that he was only ten years old when he left his mother in Indonesia. The whole story is so remarkable.

Posted on May 31, 2011 11:29:01 PM PDT
lovetoread says:
Well, we know about the deep love Ann had for her son; we know less above the love the son had for his mother. He seems to have been focused on finding his absent father. I'm sure he did love his mother but sometimes the debt that we owe our parents, in this case just his mother, doesn't fully reveal itself until we grow older. Maya, who wasn't separated from her mother, was far more available to her when she needed her.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 11:07:05 AM PDT
It does seem to be a great mystery as to what Barack Obama really thinks of the way their relationship developed -- especially in his teenage years, and this is what is missing for me.

Posted on Jul 19, 2011 1:59:52 AM PDT
This review is quite disingenuous. The administration claims that she was fighting to keep her health coverage from being cut off, when in fact this is false; she was fully covered - the fight was over a disability policy. Again, it implies that she was a single mother alone, when in fact she had parents with money.
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